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No. 22 Kentucky hands Florida a 4th consecutive loss, 88-79

March 2, 2016

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis got a lot more help than usual Tuesday night.

If it continues, No. 22 Kentucky could be a dangerous team in the NCAA Tournament.

Murray scored 21 points, Ulis added 19 points and 11 assists, and the Wildcats beat Florida 88-79, handing the Gators a fourth consecutive loss.

More surprising was their supporting cast.

Skal Labissiere made the most of his first start since Dec. 12, chipping in 11 points and eight rebounds. Alex Poythress finished with 12 points and 10 boards. And Isaiah Briscoe had 13 points.

“We can’t be a one-dimensional team,” Poythress said. “We’ve got to have all-around scoring. Everybody on the team has scored. We’ve seen it throughout the season. We’ve just got to do it on a consistent basis every night.”

Kentucky had no answer inside for John Egbunu, who finished with nine dunks and a career-high 27 points, but the Cats more than made up for it by hitting 7 of 10 shots from 3-point range.

They hit all five shots from behind the arc in the decisive second half.

“I need a confident basketball team, and it’s not going to come from me building guys up who are playing like crap,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “That’s not confidence. That’s fake. That’s not how we operate. It is telling them the truth, work on it and go do it in the game.”

Murray came up huge once again, draining three consecutive 3s as Kentucky pushed its lead to 64-51. Marcus Lee followed with a dunk that put Cal’s team up big for good with 6:32 remaining.

The Wildcats (22-8, 12-5 Southeastern Conference) squandered a 14-point lead late in the first half, and Florida (17-13, 8-9) could have been in front at the break if not for missing 10 free throws in the first 20 minutes. The Gators ended up 16 of 37 from the line.

“You can’t win big games without making free throws,” Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “We’ve got to do a better job as a team. ... We missed 20 free throws. That’s crazy.”

Egbunu was Florida’s lone bright spot. He made 12 of 15 shots in the paint.

It wasn’t nearly enough since the Gators struggled at just about every other position.

Florida’s guards really floundered. Chris Chiozza, Kasey Hill and KeVaughn Allen were 9-of-33 shooting combined, continuing a recent trend. The trio was also exposed in the previous meeting in Lexington.

Murray (35 points) and Ulis (18 points, 11 assists) were mostly unstoppable in that one, a 19-point victory last month.

Neither had to do as much Tuesday as Kentucky enjoyed a much more balanced attack.

Labissiere was the biggest surprise. The 6-foot-11 freshman, who was projected to be a top-five pick in the NBA draft, hadn’t reached double figures since late January.

“Just keep working and whenever I get my chance to go out there and take it,” Labissiere said. “It’s almost tourney time. Hopefully I can do that in tournament time.”


SENIOR NIGHT: Finney-Smith had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in his final home game. The fifth-year senior was one of two players honored before the game. He walked to center court with his mother, brother and daughter, and got a framed jersey and a standing ovation. He got another round of applause when coach Mike White pulled him with 36 seconds left.

“I had my family in the stands and guys were rallying around me. It felt good,” Finney-Smith said. “Just wish I could have left with a win.”

COSTLY LOSS: It might have been a costly loss for Florida, which is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble after faltering down the stretch. The Gators have dropped five of six and might need to win the SEC Tournament to earn an NCAA berth.

“We’ve just got to find a way to get wins now,” Finney-Smith said. “It was the hand we were dealt. We’ve got to do something about it.”


Kentucky: Have won five straight in the series. ... Shot 52.7 percent from the field and were plus-10 in rebounding. ... Made 23 of 32 from the free throw line.

Florida: Turned the ball over just five times. ... Ended the year losing three straight at home, a disappointing skid for Florida in the O’Connell Center, a 35-year-old facility that’s about to get a $65 million renovation.


Kentucky hosts LSU on Saturday.

Florida plays at Missouri on Saturday.

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